And still, every May and June I spend evenings sorting through Vermont real estate listings, trying to find the perfect house on the perfect stream, walking distance from the perfect picturesque village where the kids and I can walk down to the country store for penny candy and ice cream. It doesn't have to be a big house, and it doesn't have to have a lot of land. Just a front porch for rockers or a swing, a few craggy apple trees, and that wet, green-grass smell you only find in Vermont at dawn and dusk.
Vermont's appeal for me is largely nostalgic, but the state's recent foodie explosion is a big draw, too. Dairy farmers have made cheese in Vermont for centuries, mostly cheddar, sturdy and predictable. But now there's an artisan cheese movement afoot in Vermont. Cheesemakers are turning out small-batch cheeses made with local cow, goat and sheep milks, using mostly French methods, and they're bringing home award after award.
One goat dairy that's gotten a lot of attention is Consider Bardwell Farm. Tucked away on a back road in southwestern Vermont, Consider Bardwell is the realization of the dreams of a professional urbanite who, like me, yearned to escape the big city and find her little corner of green. Except, unlike me, her crazy dreams included goats. Lots of them.
Angela Miller is the mother of a friend of a friend - a distant connection, but enough to get me in the front door for a look around. She meets me by the road and walks me around the pens. These are Oberhasli goats, eager and friendly as puppies. Angela calls them as we approach the fence and they crowd around, asking for attention, nuzzling our hands, nibbling at my shirt.
I'm not really an animal person - too allergic - but Angela clearly sees these goats as her kids (pun intended). They look like fun, but oh, boy, they are a lot of work. Even if you only read a few chapters of Angela's memoir, Hay Fever: How Chasing a Dream on a Vermont Farm Changed My Life, you will come away with a deep understanding of just how crazy was her dream of raising goats and making cheese in Vermont. Especially while maintaining her high-powered, high-profile literary agency in New York. Equipment broke down. Goats got sick. Cheesemakers and farm workers left, came back, left again. The cheese got great reviews, but selling it in the depths of recession proved challenging, nigh impossible. And every morning, every night, the milking. Clients need attention, meetings get scheduled, deals need to be done, and yet the seasons come and go, years come and go. The goats can't wait. The cheese must be made.
We walk around around the farm, talking about goats, cheese, marriage, Vermont, New York, children. Angela is soft-spoken, hesitant, not someone who seems to like the spotlight. I know she doesn't play tour guide at Consider Bardwell very often, and I'm grateful for her time. But I get the feeling she'd rather be with the goats.
We go inside the dairy to watch master cheesemaker Peter Dixon at work. He and the other cheesemakers are "hooping" - scooping the curds out of the whey and packing them into cheese molds. The liquid drains out as the cheese is pressed, readying it for aging. It's hot and damp inside the dairy, and the floor is wet. It smells a little sour, a little salty. You taste warm milk when you inhale.
Then we walk through the aging rooms. Big, climate-controlled, stainless-steel closets - that's what they look like to me. There is cheese everywhere: big, small, tan, white. Most is goat cheese from the farm's herd, but some is made from the milk of Jersey cows who live nearby. I know it's a ridiculous thought, but all I want to do is sit in the chilly steel closet and watch the cheese age. It feels peaceful, wholesome, nurturing. Also, it smells like cheese.
I buy a few wedges of Consider Bardwell cheese to take to the friends I'm visiting in the Berkshires. We taste them that night and love Dorset, a washed-rind raw cow's milk cheese; Mettowee, a fresh goat's milk cheese named for a nearby river; and Manchester, an aged, raw goat's milk tomme, firm and creamy. Does cheese taste better when you've watched the goats walk to the barn to be milked? When the girls have licked your fingers and chewed on your clothing? I think it does.
Note: I highly recommend Angela's memoir (Hay Fever: How Chasing a Dream on a Vermont Farm Changed My Life). It didn't cure me of my Vermont spring fever, but raising goats has dropped on my lifetime list of priorities. If driving country roads and visiting artisan cheesemakers sounds like your idea of fun, visit the Vermont Cheese Council's website, especially their Vermont Cheese Trail Map - many of the cheesemakers welcome visitors and give tours.